McMahon: Blues could wreck United title bid

ESPN STAR Sports pundit Steve McMahon believes Manchester United cannot afford to lose to Chelsea this weekend.

Hazard with the finish...
Steve McMahon

By Steve McMahon

A mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash between Chelsea and Manchester United is due to take place this Sunday. While it might be early days yet to declare this match a title decider, the three points up for grab will definitely be highly prized, especially by Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Tied on points with Manchester City, United will be aware that leaving Stamford Bridge empty handed could see them concede second place to their neighbouring rivals. There will be slightly less pressure on Roberto Di Matteo, though that by no means indicates a Blues let up, especially with in-form Juan Mata propelling Chelsea's title charge. 

As Di Matteo's current stand-out performer, Mata has easily overshadowed his flashier team-mates Eden Hazard and Oscar. The Spaniard has been making headlines not only for his feats in the Chelsea jersey, but also for his recent omission from Vicente Del Bosque's world-conquering squad. In my opinion, Mata is a quality player and he must not let Del Bosque's decision affect his form, as consistently good performances for his club are key to his return to the La Roja fold.

Nonetheless, for all their attacking prowess, Chelsea are not the finished article in defence, something they have in common with their opponents. The absence of John Terry will delight Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, but Ferguson should worry about his own rear-guard, which I currently consider to be weaker than Chelsea's.

There will be excellent footballers in every position on the pitch come Sunday, in a game featuring two teams who are aware that attacking is their strength. However, with both sides appearing just as capable of conceding goals as they are of scoring them, I believe the game will be decided either by a defensive error or won by the team that makes the best use of possession.

Roberto Mancini will prepare his side for their match against Swansea with United's clash against Chelsea in mind. City's Welsh opposition pulled off an upset last season, and Mancini will not stand for repeat of that result, especially since it would allow the Red Devils an opportunity to pull away. Nevertheless, I don't believe the Italian has anything to worry about, as I consider a Swansea victory very unlikely.

When things do not go according to plan, Mancini usually calls upon Edin Dzeko from the bench, but I would not be surprised if the City manager decides to play the Bosnian from the start in the upcoming fixture. Having delivered on several occasions when the likes of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero failed, Dzeko's efforts were e rewarded with a place in the first eleven now.

If City fail to beat Swansea, Everton will be waiting in the wings to draw level with the defending champions. However, David Moyes' team will have to overcome their own obstacle in the form of a fiercely contested Merseyside derby before they can do so.

Liverpool are usually declared the favourites in these games, but based on the Toffees' recent performances and the fact that Moyes' men appear almost unbeatable at Goodison Park, I believe Everton possess a slight advantage going into the match.

The Toffees are easily one of the Premier League's most consistent teams this season, owing in part to Moyes' decision to play the same starting line-up in almost all of their games. The Scot will naturally be forced to replace Steven Pienaar (who picked up two yellow cards against QPR) for this fixture, and he might not be able to call upon Marouane Fellaini, but I still believe they have what it takes to stand in Liverpool's way. Everton's standing in the league is a consequence of a unified effort by the team, and they must continue doing so in order to pick up three points this weekend.

Steve McMahon's Premier League Predictions

Everton vs Liverpool

Merseyside derbies always throw up the spiciest of encounters and what makes it more interesting this weekend is that Everton are in form, while Liverpool have been misfiring of late.

At the moment, I believe David Moyes' side have to upper hand and I'm backing them to come out on top at Goodison Park.

Prediction: 2-1 (Halftime: 1-0)

Chelsea vs Man United

This is undoubtedly the game of the weekend and one that United can't afford to lose. If Chelsea win, they will be in the driving seat in the title race.

Despite the disappointment of losing in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, I'm backing the Blues to bounce back and deal a real blow to their opponents' title hopes.

Prediction: 2-1 (Halftime: 1-0)

Aston Villa vs Norwich

Prediction: 1-0 (HT: 0-0)

Arsenal vs QPR 

Prediction: 3-0 (HT: 1-0)

Stoke vs Sunderland 

Prediction: 2-0 (HT: 1-0)

Wigan vs West Ham

Prediction: 1-1 (HT: 0-0)

Reading vs Fulham

Prediction: 1-1 (HT: 0-0)

Man City vs Swansea

Prediction: 4-0 (HT: 2-0)

Newcastle vs West Brom

Prediction: 2-1 (HT: 1-0)

Southampton vs Tottenham

Prediction: 0-2 (HT: 0-1)

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